AUSTIN, Texas - “If someone would’ve told me back when we first opened, “Hey, by the way. Year three of your business? We’re going to go ahead and pull the plug and shut you guys down for a while and, you know, see how you do. I wouldn’t have believed it.”
But like almost all non-essential businesses in Austin and in most parts of the country in March 2020, that’s the reality that Jon Guida, owner of Austin gym MADabolic Austin, found himself in due to COVID-19.
It definitely was not the 2020 that Guida and fellow owner Joanna Rogerson had envisioned when moving to Austin from Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015.
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Guida says he and Rogerson were at a pivot point in their careers and both had a passion for fitness and knew that MADabolic was something they wanted to be involved in. He said they looked at the possibility of other cities but came to Austin and “knew this was it.”
“We’ve really established unbelievable friendships through the business and we’re forever grateful for those that are here,” Guida says. “It’s really made Austin a really welcoming place for us and we love it.”
With a city chosen, the next step was getting the gym up and running.
Guida says since they weren’t that familiar with Austin they relied on people they already knew to help with fundraising and looking for a location. A friend suggested they look at a spot in the St. Elmo area in South Austin located in a mixed-used development called The Yard.
“It was awesome,” Guida says. “It was a blank slate…just wide-open warehouse that it was up to us to treat as our canvas and paint it the way we wanted to. We built it out, literally Joanna and I, literally built it out.”
There was some help with plumbing and things but Guida says he and Rogerson did the majority of the work and with “literally blood, sweat, and tears” the gym was ready to open after about six months.
June 2017 was the official opening of MADabolic Austin’s doors and Guida says that from the beginning, interest was high.
MADabolic offers what it calls a “10 for $10” deal where new people who want to see what the gym has to offer can try out the gym for 10 days for only $10.
The training program, Guida says, is strength-focused interval training. “Basically what you’d find a lot of athletes doing during off or during season.”
There’s three different style of days (Momentum, Anaerobic, Durability) and each day there are five stations which you rotate around through and there’s always a combo of some kind of cardio and weighted elements.
It helped that the area around the gym was growing too. Not only in South Austin but in The Yard itself.
There’s St. Elmo’s Brewery, Austin Winery, Texas Sake, Still Whiskey, and Spokesman just a walk away from the gym and Guida says that MAD members treat the area almost like a second home.
“It’s turning into a destination,” Guida says. “We’re smack in the middle of it so … visibility has really been growing.”
But that all changed in March when Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered that all non-essential businesses shut down due to COVID-19.
Guida says, like most people, he knew something was happening in late February with the coronavirus and that there could be measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. The shutdown happened and Guida admits he thought that it would be maybe just a few weeks or just a month but then the shutdown remained in place.
As the shutdown continued, Guida says they adapted and like other gyms began offering virtual workouts.
"Our real concern was keeping our members engaged," Guida says. "Just (because) our doors are closed doesn't mean we just stop our fitness lives and our connections we have with everybody."
Guida admits it was a "bizarre thing" at first and that he never expected to be coaching classes via Zoom but eventually, it just turned into the normal way of doing things.
It wasn’t until May that gyms were allowed to reopen and Guida says they decided to stay closed a little while longer.
Guida says it was mainly for two reasons. The first was that many members said they just weren’t ready to head back. The second reason was that they just weren’t sure how the gym could be open with the new safety guidelines.
So Guida says they took extra time to see what others were doing and see what could work and what couldn’t. He says they went “through every step of every way through somebody’s experience in (the) facility” because they didn’t want to take any chances.
“We weren’t really in a rush to jump the gun on things. We wanted to play it as safe as possible. That’s the approach we took,” Guida says.
With safety in mind, MADabolic Austin reopened in June, around its third year anniversary, and there were multiple changes.
The gym itself has about 3,000 square feet of workout space and a high ceiling so there was plenty of space for social distancing. Classes, normally capped at 25, were reduced to a cap of 15.
There was also a reduction in the actual classes that people could take so that gym could have more time to clean between classes.
As for cleaning, each gym goer is given a spray bottle and their own towel to wipe down equipment after they use it. The staff then cleans the equipment again and disinfects after class. The gym is also professionally cleaned each night.
Guida says the gym's garage door is left open during class and the back door is open as well so that air can flow freely.
The biggest change? All people, including staff, are required to wear a face covering inside, even when working out.
"If you combine all these factors together," Guida says, "Between the air flow with the doors open, the fan, the masks, the cleaning. We're extremely confident this is as safe as any place can be right now."
Other changes Guida says they've made include altering their pricing plans as Guida says he feels many remain apprehensive about committing to a gym at this time.
"We adjusted a lot of stuff," Guida says. He says they're just trying to go with the flow as best they can.
"It's been wild for everybody," Guida says. "Everybody's experiencing this in a different way."
Ultimately, Guida says he's hoping to just give people a chance to get back to a small sense of normalcy.
"I get people's apprehension," Guida says. "It's very uncertain times we live in."
"All we can really do is show how truly safe we are and how effective this whole thing is," Guida says. "How beneficial it is to your health, both mentally and physically, to get in, get a workout in (and) be around people...in a safe environment."
For more on scheduling and classes, you can go to MADabolic's website.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.